Sunday, June 17, 2007

Compartmentalizing Stress

On Thursday, a friend went for a wilderness hike. Entirely unlike him, he didn't come home that day. Worse, he couldn't be reached by his cell phone.

Missing.

As it turned out, he'd locked his keys and cell phone in his truck, and then had to hike several miles back from the trail head, before reaching a road where he could hitch a ride into town.

Of course, your mind goes to work at times like that, trying to figure out what might have happened and what to do about it. For the most part, you can only wait. The little things you can do -- such as call the authorities to be on the look out for a truck or person -- don't occupy much of the waiting time.

So, you have to compartmentalize your thinking. You can't spend hours on hours thinking about everything that could go wrong -- unless you want to go crazy.

I thought I was doing a fairly good job compartmentalizing the problem of my missing friend this week. I wasn't spending all my time thinking about him, and I was getting on with other things, the routine things of life. So, I wasn't aware of how stressed I was until he called Friday afternoon to say he was alright.

That's when I felt the proverbial ton of bricks lift from my shoulders. At once, I understood just how hunkered down I'd been under the weight of his having gone missing. But until that moment when I heard his voice and knew everything was alright, until the moment of release, I had not realized how heavy those bricks were.

I've noticed a similar pattern at other times. Some years ago, I discovered some facts that made sense for the first time of some events in my life and I immediately felt huge relief -- but until that moment I had not been aware of how much those events had burdened me.

Reflecting on all this, it strikes me how easy it is to be under considerable stress without quite realizing just how stressed we really are. Often, it seems, we become aware of just how stressful some situation has been for us only after it is all over.

1 comment:

decrepitoldfool said...

I am hooked on a TV show about a grumpy atheist doctor who suffers chronic pain (no parallels there - heh). In one episode, he tries to scam his way into an experimental research program that would inject neurotransmitters into the pleasure center of his brain.

His only real friend asks him; "Just how depressed are you?" That question, posed in a fictional context, has stayed with me. What IS self-awareness - assuming there even is any such thing as the self? Been chewing on it a while.